"What It Means to be an American During War"
I'm in Swansea, Wales at the moment after presenting yesterday at the university here on "what it means to be an American during a time of war." Before I ship off to Cardiff and Bristol, I thought I'd post a few excerpts from my lecture:
"To really understand the depth of vulnerability that Americans felt after 9/11, you have to understand the historical context. Unlike most of Europe and even the vast majority of the world, modern Americans have had little to no experience of war on our own land. We certainly have violence in all its ugly forms, but little experience with what we might call “political violence” within our own borders. With the small exception of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, not since the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor during the Second World War had there been a foreign attack on American soil. And before that, we might have to go back as far as the U.S.-Mexican War from 1846-1848. The point being, the U.S., whether as a result of geography or foreign affairs, has maintained forms of isolationism."
"This was a time when the country wanted a duty, not a debate."
"As I’ve argued, in the vulnerability of tragedy, the tides of nationalism quickly and sharply define citizenship in terms of loyalty to the state and its protection. Hedges, Freud and others contend that this becomes synonymous with mass mobilization for war. Consequently, I want to argue here that the solution to or the transformation of this problematic phenomenon requires us to reclaim and reconceptualize democratic citizenship and its responsibilities."
"The question then is how to purify patriotism from the muck of nationalism in which it becomes entrapped during times of crisis and conflict."
"Let’s face it: with the rather small exception of those families – generally low-income and likely minority – that have lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan, Americans have remained detached from the realities of war. Without a draft that forces middle-class and some upper-class kids (those who can’t or don’t buy their way out) to fight, the war remains almost unreal for the vast majority of American voters. Sure we are outraged in principle by torture in Abu Ghraib or the slaying of civilians in Haditha or reports that 655,000 Iraqis have been killed, but it doesn’t hit home. And Americans have been generally unwilling to act in response; to demand change or as Walzer puts it: 'do all we can to prevent or stop the war.'"
"After 9/11, it would be naïve to argue that the U.S. did not face great dilemmas. For example, how to secure justice and pursue accountability for atrocities, while transforming the socio-economic roots of political violence? Or how to confront real security threats without fueling new grievances or instigating greater instability? Yet, only loud voices that were willing to give simple answers were heard."
"The only hope I see for a solution or really protection against these horrors begins with a reconceptualization and a strengthening of democratic citizenship: a citizenship that distinguishes discerning patriotism from blind nationalism; a citizenship that takes responsibility for its government’s actions especially in war; a citizenship that demands nuance and cultivates a moral imagination. It ought to mean a lot more to be an American in a time of war. It ought to mean a ‘hell of a’ lot more to be any citizen in a world of war. Until we take that responsibility, that duty, seriously, we’re condemned to the same historical patterns of mass violence and atrocity."